Top 15 Worst Draft Mistakes In NFL History

Photo: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Why are you a draft fan?

I can tell you why I'm a draft fan. I was born in Tampa, Florida, and raised on Tampa sports. Tampa had its success in the early 2000s. The Tampa Buccaneers won a Super Bowl and the Tampa Bay Lightning won a Stanley Cup. Even the Tampa Bay Rays made it to the World Series in 2008.

But that's about it. 

Especially for the Buccaneers, outside of those Tony Dungy-Jon Gruden years, it's been a barren wasteland of one unsuccessful season after another. The team hasn't made the playoffs since 2007, and it has only had three winning seasons since then.

Safe to say the most exciting time of the year for those who watched Buccaneers football wasn't the second half the regular season or the playoffs. It was the draft.

There are many fan bases who share that same kind of story. Just like there have been a handful of teams that have maintained success for long periods of time, there have also been franchises that dwelled in failure for just as long, if not longer.

The unique part about the draft, though, is whether you were the best team last season, the worst or anything in between, the draft matters — a lot. The majority of your picks matter. Dynasties depend on good draft classes for sustained success; for turnarounds and rebuilds, they are obviously paramount.

Which begs the question: What's the worst draft mistake your NFL team has ever made?

I got over 2,000 responses to that question, here were the best responses.

The Herschel Walker Trade

Oh, the Herschel Walker trade. You remember Herschel Walker, right? One of the most feared running backs in college football history. Well, he wasn't nearly as dominant in the NFL. However, after two of the most successful seasons he would have in his career, the Dallas Cowboys traded Walker to the Minnesota Vikings for five players and six draft picks.

One of those draft picks became Emmitt Smith, one of the greatest, if not the best rusher in NFL history, who is the all-time leader with 18,355 yards. His 175 total touchdowns also rank him second in league history behind Jerry Rice (207).

Oh, and by the way, Walker played just two seasons with the Vikings and never eclipsed 1,000 yards rushing in either.

The Ricky Williams Trade

Speaking of just downright franchise-ruining trades...

After coming off back-to-back 6-10 seasons, New Orleans Saints head coach Mike Ditka decided to make a splash — and by splash, I mean cannonball into a kiddy pool — by dealing every draft pick in his entire 1999 draft for the rights to select running back Ricky Williams with the fifth-overall pick. In the deal, the Saints traded away eight picks, including two first-round selections to the Washington Redskins just so they could move up seven spots from No. 12 to No. 5 so they could take Williams.

New Orleans traded away more picks than it moved up spots.

The story ends with Ditka and his entire regime getting fired after the '99 season, and Williams playing just three years before going to Miami in 2002, where he spent most of his career.

"Here's the Kicker"

The Buccaneers drafted kicker Roberto Aguayo in the second round of the 2016 draft.

That's it. That's the tweet.

Buccaneers Don't Know Bo

Listen, I told you the Buccaneers have had some miserable years, and you don't get those miserable years without some miserable picks.

Here's the setup: During Bo Jackson's junior and senior years at Auburn, the dual-sport athlete started to lean more towards a pro baseball career. But in 1986, Jackson's senior year, the Bucs held the first-overall pick in the draft and tried to convince Jackson to play for them. In a 2015 story summarized by the Tampa Bay Times, owner Hugh Culverhouse took Jackson on a private jet to visit with the team during his final baseball season. Jackson was told by the Buccaneers the trip, which ultimately cost Jackson his remaining collegiate baseball eligibility, had been cleared by the NCAA and SEC when it had not. Jackson then insisted he would never play for Tampa Bay.

"I told (owner) Hugh Culverhouse, 'You draft me if you want,'" Jackson said. "'You're going to waste a draft pick. I promise you that.'"

The Buccaneers still picked him No. 1 that year, and Jackson never played a single snap for them in his entire career.

Every Pick of the Ryan Grigson Era

Ryan Grigson was the general manager for the Indianapolis Colts from 2012-16. In his very first draft, he selected Andrew Luck with the first-overall pick. He then proceeded to field an offensive line that was so bad Luck got beat up to the point he doesn't play football anymore. He also drafted guys like Bjorn Werner in the first round (one of many wasted first-round picks), used a first-round pick to trade for Trent Richardson after he was confirmed not worth a first round pick, and drafted a 2013 class where outside of Werner, I don't even know a single name.

Ryan "Freaking" Leaf

Ryan Leaf was drafted second overall by the then-San Diego Chargers. Before the draft, he was called the top choice of any player. The only problem is Peyton Manning was also in that class. After just three seasons, Leaf was out in San Diego, and as you well know, Manning's career was a bit longer.

The Jags, All of It

Here are some of the Jacksonville Jaguars’ draft mistakes: they took Blaine Gabbert one pick before J.J. Watt. They took Justin Blackmon when they could've had Luke Kuechly and Stephon Gilmore. They picked punter — punter — Bryan Anger over Russell Wilson. And to bring it all home, they picked Taven Bryan over Lamar Jackson.

I'm so, so sorry.

The Raiders, All of It

If you thought the Jaguars hauls were a gut punch, get a load of the Oakland Raiders.

They selected Robert Gallery second overall over Philip River, Larry Fitzgerald and Sean Taylor. They picked Fabian Washington one pick over Aaron Rodgers. They went with Napoleon Harris over Ed Reed, and finally Jihad Ward over Derrick Henry and Michael Thomas.

I have no words, only my deepest condolences.

Tony Mandarich > Barry Sanders

Tony Mandarich was drafted in the first round of the 1989 draft by Green Bay Packers as the second-overall pick. Before the draft, he was called "the best offensive prospect ever."

He wasn't.

It took the Packers just three years to cut Mandarich. The pick after him in that draft? Barry Sanders. The pick after that? Derrick Thomas. The pick after that? Deion Sanders.

Bad pick to miss on.

Eric Ebron Over Aaron Donald

I mean, the Detroit Lions drafted Eric Ebron over Aaron Donald.

What more do you want me to break down?

Anyone Picked Over Adrian Peterson

Ok, so maybe not anyone. In the 2007 draft, the Cleveland Browns did draft Joe Thomas and the Lions did draft Calvin Johnson before Adrian Peterson was picked. As for the rest, the Buccaneers drafted Gaines Adams, the Arizona Cardinals drafted Levi Brown and the Washington Redskins drafted LaRon Landry.

Fools.

Money Manziel

Johnny Manziel took the college football world by storm when he led Texas A&M to a victory over Alabama in Tuscaloosa midway through the Crimson Tide's dynasty. From that point on Manziel put his unique spin on college football, one that won him a lot of games and a Heisman Trophy.

When it came to the pros, the Browns bought into Manziel with the 22nd pick of the 2014 draft. But Manziel's off the field struggles paired with his style of play not translating to the NFL left him out of the league after just two seasons.

Paxton Lynch

Coming off their Super Bowl window, even with Peyton Manning retiring, the Denver Broncos still had a roster that could have competed for playoff contention. But with one swift bust pick of Paxton Lynch, that era of Broncos football became a thing of the past.

You have to respect it.

The Trubisky Tidal Wave

Right when I asked this question I knew it wouldn't take long for me to hear about how the Chicago Bears traded up one spot just to draft quarterback Mitchell Trubisky while Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes were on the board.

That itself is bad. But what if I told you it got worse.

With two of the picks the Bears traded to move up for Trubisky, the Saints drafted Alvin Kamara and the 49ers drafted Fred Warner.

Now it's worse.

The Infamous JaMarcus Russell

Coming out of LSU, maybe called JaMarcus Russell the can't miss prospect of the decade. At 6-foot-5, 230 pounds, he was a 5-star recruit coming out of high school and then was first-team All-SEC in 2006 and MVP of the 2007 Sugar Bowl.

But when it came to the NFL, Russell was not able to replicate any of that success. He started just 25 games in three years in his NFL career, ending his pro days with just 18 touchdowns to 23 interceptions and a 7-18 record.

HONORABLE MENTION:

  • The Kansas City Chiefs taking QB Todd Blackledge No. 7 overall over Dan Marino (who went No. 27 overall) in 1983.
  • The Philadelphia Eagles drafted Danny Watkins, who really went to school to be a fire fighter, not play football, one pick before Cameron Jordan in the first round in 2011.

Written By:

Trevor Sikkema

Senior NFL Draft Analyst

Senior NFL Draft Analyst for The Draft Network. Co-Host of the Locked On NFL Draft Podcast.

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